And the stuff about pointe work as the functional equivalent of foot-binding is beyond silly.
Possibly, but Macaulay is not the first to make the comparison nor will he be the last, I suspect. To cite only one such, a passage from Joan Brady's "The Unmaking of a Dancer":
"There is a coming of age in first squeezing the feet into tiny satin shoes....even the pain they cause, which can be awful, takes on a mystical significance of its own, like the first blood drawn in battle....It took years for the fruit of such footbinding to manifest themselves, but at the time I was delighted. What a toe shoe succeeds in doing is no less radical than changing the nature and function of the foot altogether..."
Note: I suspect that what follows is in the wrong thread, but since my initial complaint about Macaulay's article started here, I'll continue here. Moderators -- feel free to move this to a more appropriate thread.
The comparison of pointe work to foot binding is worse than silly: it's lazy. It attempts to blow a superficial resemblance up into a damning critique. The thinking goes something like this: "Pointe work, like foot binding, involves the feet, requires special shoes, looks painful, isn't practiced by men, and began in a less-enlightened era, therefore it too is an example of the benighted oppression of women by a male-dominated hierarchy. It too is an example of men crippling women out of a warped sense of beauty and a perverted eroticism."
And although Macaulay isn't actively promoting the equation, he's happy to dump it into his litany of straw men and rhetorical questions to let his readers know he's hip to the issue. But the charge the comparison levies against ballet is sufficiently inflammatory to warrant a rebuttal. And if Macaulay doesn't really accept the comparison, he shouldn't have invoked it unless he was willing to challenge it head on.
[For a refresher, here's Macaulay: "The questions pile up. Does the 21st century even need ballerinas? America is one of many Western societies where women fight for equality in the workplace and can no longer expect men to stand when they enter a room; same-sex marriages are now institutionalized. Ballet had a beginning; it may have an end. In particular, the practice of dancing on point may one day seem as bizarre as the bygone Chinese practicing of binding women’s feet. Do we still need an art form whose stage worlds are almost solely heterosexual and whose principal women are shown not as workers but as divinities?"]
And the resemblance is superficial:
1) Foot binding was not an option. If you were a Han Chinese woman in any but the lowest class, your feet would have been bound to ensure your marriageability.
But no one is forced to dance on pointe. Yes, you have to dance on pointe to be a classical ballerina -- but forgoing a career as a classical ballerina is in no way the equivalent of being deprived of the ability to walk normally for the rest of one's life.
2) The structural damage done to the bound foot was extreme and irreparable. I urge everyone to go to this Wikipedia page
for grim pictures of the results. But in the meantime, here's a description of the foot binding process itself, which was usually begun somewhere between ages 4 and 7.
"To enable the size of the feet to be reduced, the toes on each foot were curled under, then pressed with great force downwards and squeezed into the sole of the foot until the toes broke. The broken toes were held tightly against the sole of the foot while the foot was then drawn down straight with the leg and the arch forcibly broken. The bandages were repeatedly wound in a figure-eight movement, starting at the inside of the foot at the instep, then carried over the toes, under the foot, and around the heel, the freshly broken toes being pressed tightly into the sole of the foot. At each pass around the foot, the binding cloth was tightened, pulling the ball of the foot and the heel together, causing the broken foot to fold at the arch, and pressing the toes underneath."
Bound feet were prone to infection. Here's another paragraph from the Wikipedia article that will get your attention:
"If the infection in the feet and toes entered the bones, it could cause them to soften, which could result in toes dropping off; although, this was seen as a benefit because the feet could then be bound even more tightly. Girls whose toes were more fleshy would sometimes have shards of glass or pieces of broken tiles inserted within the binding next to her feet and between her toes to cause injury and introduce infection deliberately. Disease inevitably followed infection, meaning that death from septic shock could result from foot-binding, and a surviving girl was more at risk for medical problems as she grew older."
Women with bound feet were unable to walk normally -- they had to take mincing little steps while balanced on their heels. The wives, concubines, and daughters of wealthy men could rely on servants for help; the wives of poorer men had to work despite their pain and limited mobility.
Dancing on pointe is undeniably hard on the feet (we've all seen this Henry Leutwyler photo
) but it doesn't inflict the kind of pain or do the kind of damage that foot binding did. I'd say it's more akin to the wear and tear perpetrated on the bodies of professional athletes. And in that regard whatever damage that results from dancing on pointe is surely more benign than the chronic traumatic encephalopathy suffered by the participants in football, boxing, and ice hockey.
I'm fine with the contention that pointe work was prompted by a notion of ideal womanhood that may seem ludicrous -- and disempowering -- to us now, although I'd also argue that we needn't therefore consign a whole art form to the dustbin of history. But I'm not fine with basing an argument on an invidious comparison -- and that's what the equation of pointe work and foot binding is.